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Bay scallops

Chinese imports keep bay scallop market steady

- Marianne Deward
November 01, 2006

At a time of overall market fluctuations, bay scallops ( Argopec­ten irradians ) have for the last two years remained stable in supply, demand and pricing, and no significant changes are expected for 2007.

Though bay scallops are sourced domestically in the Atlantic Ocean from New England to the southern states, more than 90 percent of bays coming into this country are imported from coastal aquaculture operations in China, where the scallops are raised on suspension nets. A very small amount of frozen imports comes sporadically from Argentina, Vietnam and the Philippines.

China has a fall harvest from October to January and a spring harvest in April and May.

Prices for Chinese bay scallops have not changed much from last year. They held steady at $2 to $2.25 for 150-200 meats per pound, and $2.90 to $3.25 for 60-80s. Larger bay scallops were in the $4.35 to $4.75 range for 40-60-count.

"Typically under $3 a pound, China bay scallops are a great value," says Bob Fitzsimmons, president and owner of Trisome Foods in Stratham, N.H. "Having just met with our China suppliers, we learned that the bays in this next harvest may be a bit larger, and the prices may reflect that, but we'll wait and see."

The supply of bays has been steady, and demand, though strong, has leveled off, says Fitzsimmons. "Bay scallops have been and will continue to be a popular choice in both retail and foodservice," he says. "I don't expect any great spikes or changes in the near future."

Wild bay scallops, also known as Cape Cod or Nantucket bays, are usually harvested in November and December. This season's harvest off Nantucket should be good, predicts Debbie Crossman, frozen-seafood buyer for John Nagle Co., a wholesale distributor in Boston that sells untreated Chinese bay scallops and wild-caught domestic bays.

"We watch the supply year to year, because it depends on changes in the environment," said Crossman. "The demand is more local but very strong for these particular scallops. Exclusive clientele, upscale restaurants and specialty seafood markets often preorder."

In 2006, prices for Nantucket bays ranged from $13 to $15 a pound for 40-60-count, the same as last year. "We did notice, however, that [scallops in the overall catch] seemed to be a bit larger this year than last," Crossman adds. "We don't know yet what next year's harvest will bring."

For most buyers, calico scallops, harvested primarily in the warmer waters off Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico, aren't readily available.

"Right now there is no significant production of calicos, and there hasn't been for a few years," says Fitzsimmons. "For 2007, we're looking at a good year for bay scallops on all fronts." - M.D.

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